Going up? Comeback Queen Kelly Rutherford Is In Fashion’s Front Row

By Alexandra Zagalsky
Daily Telegraph UK
Kelly Rutherford attends the Son Jung Wan fashion show during New York Fashion Week. Photo / Getty Images

After decades in Hollywood, actress Kelly Rutherford is enjoying a new era, acquiring a dedicated fashion fanbase following her chic haute couture appearances and quirky elevator selfies

When the American actress Kelly Rutherford agrees to speak to me over Zoom, I enthusiastically text a few friends to share the news. One word comes back from all three: “obsessed!” They’re not the only ones.

Rutherford, who starred in cult television show Gossip Girl as New York socialite Lily van der Woodsen (AKA the ultimate “Birkin mum” to Blake Lively’s character Serena), has a dedicated fanbase but now she’s on track to becoming an Instagram fashion icon, with two million followers and counting.

What’s more, she’s achieved this new-found status quite effortlessly by posting stylish selfies to Instagram often taken in her elevator. Her regular wardrobe updates have gone viral, and everyone wants a piece of her.

Indeed, Rutherford has claimed her place on fashion’s front row and she’s done so with panache. At London Fashion Week, she exuded chic in Emilia Wickstead florals and relaxed glamour in Mithridate tailoring this was after a busy New York Fashion Week which saw her grace a Tod’s cocktail party in preppy beige and the Tommy Hilfiger front row in a red and cream graphic-print dress.

Kelly Rutherford attends London-based New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead's show during fashion week. Photo / Getty Images
Kelly Rutherford attends London-based New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead's show during fashion week. Photo / Getty Images

It was during the couture shows in January that Rutherford became fashion’s new favourite frow fixture. For Simone Rocha’s couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier, she wore a voluminous pink satin dress from the Irish designer’s own SS24 ready-to-wear range, paired with red pumps to match the gown’s long draped scarlet ribbon, channelling the balletcore trend as she happily rubbed shoulders with Kylie Jenner. Their unlikely interaction became the show’s most memed moment on TikTok, reimagined as a mother-daughter Gossip Girl scene, set to the high jinks of haute couture.

That same week, the 55-year-old actress-turned-influencer wore a cream Dior skirt suit to the maison’s couture show at the Musée Rodin, a vision of old-school glamour and furthering her reputation as a true style chameleon.

When I speak to her on Zoom, she’s wearing a slouchy chocolate knit with large brown framed glasses by LRG, a boutique Italian brand specialising in handmade frames. Her blonde hair is gathered in a messy bun and her skin has the luminous look of a sustained skincare routine with barely-there make-up.

Seated next to Kylie Jenner, Kelly Rutherford was front row at the Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture show at Paris Fashion Week. Photo / Getty Images
Seated next to Kylie Jenner, Kelly Rutherford was front row at the Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture show at Paris Fashion Week. Photo / Getty Images

Rutherford is the ultimate Comeback Queen. She endured a much publicised six-year custody battle with her ex-husband over their two children following the couple’s divorce in 2009. He won and the children moved overseas, leaving the actress emotionally bereft and financially crippled with legal fees. She managed to bounce back, travelling back and forth to Monaco and France to see her kids at every opportunity, working intermittently to make ends meet. Then came her Instagram reinvention and a real-life elevator pitch.

“I always take my dogs for a walk in the mornings and I noticed the lighting was pretty good in there, so I began taking pictures on my way out, purely from a practical standpoint,” says Rutherford of her tiny-yet-effective elevator-cum-studio, stylishly retro in its own right with a mirrored frame, stainless steel features, and what looks to be a wooden floor and marquetry panels.

I ask her if she ever saw the elevator as a metaphor for potential, a life in the spotlight “going places” again. “Well yes, it is symbolic, that’s true,” she concedes. “There’s a certain mystery and anticipation attached to it. You could be going to dinner, to a café, to meet friends … who knows!”

If you ask me, no one has made better sartorial use of a retro lift since Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore tap danced their way up to the 12th floor dressed in flapper dresses for the 1969 musical movie romp Thoroughly Modern Millie. But Rutherford doesn’t make a song and dance about her style, instead she usually tilts her head to one side and strikes a stately pose for her mirror shots, channelling her very own combination of Scandi chic, Upper East Side glamour and Parisian garçonne elegance with a pinch of eccentricity — just enough to stay on the cool side of quirky.

Mixing independent boutique finds with luxe ready-to-wear, along with a healthy supply of vintage furs, the actress shakes up the polished look in her own unique way. “I think there’s a part of me that’s always wanted to be a magazine editor or a creative director,” she reveals. “I’ve always loved putting images together and creating mood boards. My Instagram is just an extension of that. Plus, I want to share, when I find a brand I love, I want to support it.”

It’s true that Rutherford is a devoted tagger, allowing her followers to easily shop her style. Her shoutouts are genuine recommendations from the fashion grapevine, not paid-for endorsements plugging big brands.

So far, she’s name-checked an international smorgasbord of fashion newbies and independents, most recently Ukrainian label Kulakovsky noted for its luxury leather aviator jackets, Italian luxury denim company Darkpark, Portuguese sustainable sneaker label Hirundo and Irish knitwear designer Colin Burke.

The actor also attended the Dior Haute Couture show during Paris Fashion Week. Photo / Getty Images
The actor also attended the Dior Haute Couture show during Paris Fashion Week. Photo / Getty Images

She’s fond of chunky boots and ruffled collars, but above all she’s big on neutrals. “I actually love prints but only in the summer. For me, winter is about brown, taupe, grey, camel and black. Although I do love tweed and of course lots of woolly woolly things,” she says, smiling.

In fact, if you’re into statement jumpers, Rutherford’s a go-to reference. Her new favourites include handcrafted sweaters by Mr Mittens based in Perth, Australia; Items14 from Antwerp; and Mumshandmade, a tiny operation which ships from Thessaloniki in Greece. She favours cable patterns and is partial to a pouffy sleeve. Everything she models looks lovingly crafted, never fussy.

Rutherford says her love of fashion stems from the same place as her love of acting, namely from watching foreign films growing up. “That blending of cultures was something I connected to from a young age, plus my grandmother was Danish,” she says, adding, “it’s about moving energy really. We all get into a rhythm of wearing a certain thing, so it’s good to switch things up.”

As proven by her haute couture appearances, Rutherford often dresses in the spirit of Parisian chic. So much so that last year she designed a capsule collection with French footwear brand Carel. Currently, she can be seen in Apple TV’s Escort Boys too, a raunchy comedy set in the Camargue, which also stars former Chanel model Carole Bouquet and Spanish cinema star Rossy de Palma.

Even though she hasn’t quite mastered the art of the French rolling R, fashionistas across the Channel see her as an honorary French muse.

“She epitomises effortless chic, seamlessly blending sophistication with a touch of nonchalant elegance. I was so thrilled seeing her wearing our coat,” says Jeanne Damas, the model-turned-entrepreneur who founded hit Parisian label Rouje.

Rutherford posed in the said camel overcoat while cuddling one of her beloved pet dachshunds. The actress prefers symbols to words to demonstrate her appreciation of a brand or designer — the squirrel, shooting star, coffee cup, dove and dog emojis feature regularly in her irreverent rating system, which has also endeared her to a younger demographic.

The gossip’s true, this stylish comeback queen is climbing high in that elevator of hers.

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